Regular readers of this paltry column would know that around about this time, the writer is prone to launching into diatribes peppered with ferocious invective, designed purely to motivate, cajole, harass or force people to study Modern Greek, for the multitude or re-hashed and re-ruminated reasons that one supposedly should.
Not this year however. Instead, this diatribe applauds the decision of the Hellenic Club in Canberra to discontinue its funding of the Modern Greek Program at the Australian National University, resulting in the program's cessation. This article also lampoons those who would criticize the Hellenic Club. Shock, horror! The Hellenic Club does not wish to fork out $10,000.00 every year and suddenly the whole Greek community is plunged into doom and gloom. Yet another Modern Greek program gone. Let's have a drive to find some other sponsors to resuscitate the already mouldering corpse that is Modern Greek language Studies. Not withstanding the fact that while we are able to as a community raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to resuscitate a defunct and socially useless soccer club such as Heidelberg, we seem not to have pockets of like depth when it comes to promoting our language, seriously, how Greek is the gloom and doom reaction? It is as if we have descended into a Euripidean tragedy where the only means of escape is to throw money in the vain hope that it will go away.
The fact of the matter is that money will not solve the Modern Greek problem, nor should it. The Hellenic Club in Canberra, oft cited by various community leaders as a shining example of how the future of the organized Greek community should be, has proven this once and for all. This is a Club whose sole motivation seems to be in the words of many Canberrians "to run a business", and survives mostly on the revenue of pokies. This is a club that demands that Greek Melbourne-based booksellers present themselves in Canberra for their festival without assisting in the transportation of these books. Quite the opposite, apparently these booksellers should feel grateful in bearing this cost and inconvenience as the Club is opening up "new markets" for them. Yeah right. Let's put together all our pokies revenue, put it in a nice in-ground pool and swim in it. What an outstanding contribution to Hellenism.
Money, money, money. Patriots and community leaders such as Arthur Synodinos had their hearts in the right place when they wrioe to the Pokies, (sorry) Hellenic Club asking it to reconsider its decision. Yet this approach is misguided. Even if one pumped $100,000 into the Modern Greek Studies program, if there is manifestly only a token interest in the program, what justification is there in persisting in our wild perverted delusions that we will make any difference. It would be, and is rather, like "flogging a dead horse."Ever kissed a dead horse? Yuk. So why are we trying to resuscitate it? The cargo cult of acquisition for money runs deep within our veins. Greek Australians buy houses, sons-in-law, education for their children, radiostations, newspapers, university chairs and even the respect of their peers. Yet the one thing we consistently forget is that we cannot buy language acquisition, nor the perpetuation of our "culture." If fewer and fewer students are studying Modern Greek, it is because fewer and fewer want to. If fewer and fewer students want to study Modern Greek, it is because as a community, as a family or as a support network, we have failed to create a climate where the non-study of Modern Greek is socially acceptable. This is criminal if one considers that Greek studies are more vital now than ever, given the increasing number of students from mixed marriages who desperately need access to good quality Greek education so as to be able to retain that part of their identity. No amount of money will fix this problem. To continue the equine analogy, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink.
So what is to be done? Let's step back 200 years to see a solitary monk travel up and down the length of Greece and Albania, inflamed with the fire of Hellenism and the Holy Spirit. Agios Kosmas the Aetolian in his lifetime visited over a thousand villages and so convinced the otherwise ignorant and impassive villagers of the necessity of them keeping the Greek language and culture alive, especially when many of these had become primarily Vlach or Albanian speaking. Agios Kosmas was able to build over 200 schools, giving birth to a tradition of Greek education which still exists today and re-claiming vast areas of land for Hellenism. He did not do this with money. Instead, he achieved it by speaking to people's hearts, by inspiring them and convincing them. People listened and caused their children to listen as well and a new generation of Greek teachers emerged to lead Greece into the revolution and the modern world.
The Hellenic Club cannot be blamed for its stance, nor its clumsy attempt to redeem itself by ‘reversing’ its decision. It is a product of its times in a society bent on apathy and the accumulation of capital. Its only error was, by initially funding the program, to cause us to believe that it was in any way responsible for the education of Canberrian Greeks. Of course it isn't. As ιδιώτες, individuals, we are alone responsible for the perpetuation of our language. As idiots however, it will hardly be surprising to see some new deluded "saviour" of the Greek people purchase his way into respect by funding some other defunct program. Because let's face it, it is quite hard to inspire someone and the application of window dressing is much easier. Potemkin, the patron of the Greek communities of the Black Sea, who sought to impress Catherine the Great with his re-settlement of the Crimea by erecting facades of buildings and shopfronts with no structure behind them would have been proud.
first published in NKEE on 9 February 2004